Examining the Legacy of the Feminist Movement
By Alicia Colon
November 16, 1999
Originally Published in Staten Island Advance
Earlier this year, at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, a lecture was scheduled entitled "The Sexual Revolution 25 years later-Has it been good for Women." It's interesting to note that organizers of the forum consider the start of the revolution 1973 the same year as the Roe V. Wade decision. In actuality, the revolution started over ten years earlier in the early sixties.
I was a very young woman working for the phone company when the "burn the bra" protests started. Women were being asked by rally leaders to divest themselves of this restrictive undergarment and enjoy the freedom of their unshackled bodies. It was an interesting suggestion that I had absolutely no intention of following. While I was certainly eager to ditch the customary iron maiden corsets that were the standard part of any young woman's wardrobe, I was reluctant to abandon my most necessary foundation garment.
Other demands of the women's revolution struck me as being rather petty and I admit that I failed to be moved by this clarion call for liberation. The fact is I have always felt relatively liberated and had no need of any political movement that required me to bristle at being called ``Babe'' or ``Sweetie.''
Of course, I was all for equal pay and equal opportunities but there seemed to be much too much male bashing behind this momentous revolution. Angry, apparently bitter women who had been abused and abandoned by callous husbands were eagerly embracing and spearheading the fledgling cause. Their strident chants failed to enchant me because even as young as I was, I could detect the latent hypocrisy that I believe has served as a tenet of The National Organization For Women.
If it is sexist of men to call us`` broads'' then we'd better not call our boy toys ``hunks.'' Let's admit it, men are treated as sex objects as often as women are, albeit more benignly. If men's clubs are verboten then shouldn't ladies auxiliaries be forbidden as well? If conservative politicians can be castigated for improper relations with women, then surely, liberal offenders should be pursued with the same vengeance. Fair is fair, isn't it? Well not according to N.O.W.
Whenever a women's issue surfaces in the news, we are invariably bombarded with appearances by Patricia Ireland, N.O.W. president and Gloria Alred, feminist attorney. These women allegedly represent the women's position but I have seldom felt that they represented mine. The membership for N.O.W. is officially, according to their own web site, 250,000. Yet, Concerned Women For America, a conservative organization, has a membership twice that figure yet it is seldom allowed to showcase its agenda on network television. Why not?
Feminist icons waxing nostalgia over the early days of struggle, recount the difficulty of their ordeals and how hard it has been to achieve their goals. They lament that the corporate glass ceiling is still so firmly in place. Perhaps the reason is because they lacked the grassroots support of women like myself.
It takes money to be able to devote yourself full time to any cause. If you are working two jobs just to make ends meet it is unlikely that you can have much impact on the course that a cause will take. Many of the college students who bared their bosoms before the news photogs and waved their bras aloft probably had their tuition paid for by Daddy and I seriously doubt they paid him back.
I certainly do not mean to imply that there were no injustices that needed to be corrected. There were many societal changes that needed to be mandated but I believe that the proverbial baby was thrown out with the bath water. Instead of demanding more respect for the housewife, the movement devalued her importance as much as any unappreciative spouse. Women ended up walking away from their families instead of learning to communicate their feelings and standing up to a stubborn husband. The strongest women were the ones who stayed and showed their husbands the world through their eyes.
As a young single woman at that time, I would have preferred leadership with experience in successful relationships with the opposite sex. Women who had learned to communicate lovingly with their men and who also had a strong sense of justice and fairness would have impressed me more.
I happen to be very fond of the opposite sex. As a mother of three boys and three girls, I also know that women must bear responsibility for the men they raise. My sons have been doing their own laundry and housework since day one and my daughters are encouraged to seek whatever careers they feel comfortable with. But there are real physical differences between the sexes and limitations should be honestly acknowledged.
When Gloria Steinem was asked how slight women firefighters should handle a heavy person during a rescue, she suggested that the woman should drag the person's body down the stairs instead of lifting it. As Bugs Bunny would say-``What a maroon!'' If a woman weighs enough and can pass a qualifying firefighter's test than by all means, give her the job. Otherwise, don't lower the bar to permit unqualified candidates.
So has the sexual revolution been good for women? In many ways yes but ironically it has proved to be even better for men. A man no longer has to carry the burden of being the sole provider for his family. He no longer has to marry any woman he impregnates. He can demand that she have an abortion and so escape the consequences of a one-night stand. In fact why should he get married at all? Many of today's young women are not homebodies willing to stay at home and raise children. They want equal rights in the bedroom as well a flourishing career. Hooray! Women can be as sexual aggressive as men. It's a man's fantasy come true.
It's unfair to equate the downfall of the American family to the sexual revolution and the women's movement. It is too complex a problem to blame on any one factor but one cannot deny that many negative conditions resulted from the disappearance of the American housewife.
I, myself, will forever be grateful for one very positive result of feminism. The introduction of the appellation ``Ms'' eliminated the guesswork in addressing female strangers.
Thank you, Ms. Steinem.
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Copyright 1999 by Alicia Colon. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author. All rights reserved.